I have read a few works by authors who study the notion of philosophia perennis – the perennial philosophy. While I am capable of appreciating their works, and I find some metaphysical, spiritual and ethical teachings in common for all of the major religions of the world, I have come to adopt a more exclusivist position.
While I truly despise the Enlightenment and atheism, I have seen people advocating the tempting idea of Traditionalists ignoring their differences in order to fight atheism. This, alas, won’t do. There are significant reasons why we should believe that the Church is the path to Salvation, and that the paths outside of it are either erroneous and/or incomplete and thus don’t lead to Salvation. Christianity is not just the supreme path of spirituality because of the healing of our Nous through the God-man Christ, but the true philosophy – as Saint Justin Martyr taught.
One of the reasons I have adopted this position is the doctrine of the Fall, proper to biblical theism. (Heretical versions of this doctrine are not included here, such as different gnostic/occult versions of it.) Here is a very brief introduction into the biblical doctrine of the Fall compared with the Monist and Dualist worldviews, by C. S. Lewis:
The Christian answer to the question [of human wickedness] is contained in the doctrine of the Fall. According to that doctrine, man is now a horror to God and to himself and a creature ill-adapted to the universe not because God made him so but because he has made himself so by the abuse of his free will. To my mind this is the sole function of the doctrine. It exists to guard against two sub-Christian theories of the origin of evil – Monism, according to which God Himself, being ‘above good and evil’, produces impartially the effects to which we give those two names, and Dualism, according to which God produces good, while some equal and independent Power produces evil. Against both these views Christianity asserts that God is good; that He made all things good and for the sake of their goodness; that one of the good things He made, namely, the free will of rational creatures, by its very nature included the possibility of evil; and that creatures, availing themselves of this possibility, have become evil.
C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, V. The Fall of Man
In most of the non-biblical traditions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Stoicism, Neoplatonism, Modern Hermeticism, etc. either Monism or Dualism is adopted. Both views are radically defective, and here I will give you two excerpts from C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity in order to show the main flaws of these teachings.
People who all believe in God can be divided according to the sort of God they believe in. There are two very different ideas on this subject. One of them is the idea [called “Monism”] that He is beyond good and evil. We humans call one thing good and another thing bad. But according to some people that is merely our human point of view. These people would say that the wiser you become the less you would want to call anything good or bad, and the more dearly you would see that everything is good in one way and bad in another, and that nothing could have been different. Consequently, these people think that long before you got anywhere near the divine point of view the distinction would have disappeared altogether.
We call a cancer bad, they would say, because it kills a man; but you might just as well call a successful surgeon bad because he kills a cancer. It all depends on the point of view. The other and opposite idea is that God is quite definitely “good” or “righteous”, a God who takes sides, who loves love and hates hatred, who wants us to behave in one way and not in another. The first of these views—the one that thinks God beyond good and evil—is called Pantheism. It was held by the great Prussian philosopher Hagel and, as far as I can understand them, by the Hindus. The other view is held by Jews, Mohammedans and Christians.
And with this big difference between Pantheism and the Christian idea of God, there usually goes another. Pantheists usually believe that God, so to speak, animates the universe as you animate your body: that the universe almost is God, so that if it did not exist He would not exist either, and anything you find in the universe is a part of God. The Christian idea is quite different. They think God invented and made the universe—like a man making a picture or composing a tune.
A painter is not a picture, and he does not die if his picture is destroyed. You may say, “He’s put a lot of himself into it,” but you only mean that all its beauty and interest has come out of his head. His skill is not in the picture in the same way that it is in his head, or even in his hands, expect you see how this difference between Pantheists and Christians hangs together with the other one. If you do not take the distinction between good and bad very seriously, then it is easy to say that anything you find in this world is a part of God. But, of course, if you think some things really bad, and God really good, then you cannot talk like that.
You must believe that God is separate from the world and that some of the things we see in it are contrary to His will. Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, “If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realise that this also is God.” The Christian replies, “Don’t talk damned nonsense.”
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book II – What Christians Believe, 1. The Rival Conceptions Of God
As C. S. Lewis points out, the first main problem with Monism and Pantheism is that it renders any notion of the Good meaningless, making every choice or action one makes toward something one think is the good utterly meaningless – since it is a thing’s goodness that makes it desirable or lovable.
There is a second main problem with Monism and Pantheism (and I will add predestination and monergism as well –doctrines where in all things that happen it is God’s will that is done). These views of God lead to determinism – man has no metaphysical freedom to do anything except to execute the predetermined operations he is supposed to execute, as a particle of God/the Cosmos (as in the case of Monism and Pantheism), or as a creature that does God’s will out of incapacity to disobey (as in the case of predestination and monergism). Thus, we never really have a choice to act, and our acts have no existential significance.
Note: as you can see, modern atheism is fully compatible with both of these facets of Monism.
Moving onto Dualism:
A universe that contains much that is obviously bad and apparently meaningless, but containing creatures like ourselves who know that it is bad and meaningless. There are only two views that face all the facts. One is the Christian view that this is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been. The other is the view called Dualism. Dualism means the belief that there are two equal and independent powers at the back of everything, one of them good and the other bad, and that this universe is the battlefield in which they fight out an endless war […]
The two powers, or spirits, or gods—the good one and the bad one—are supposed to be quite independent. They both existed from all eternity. Neither of them made the other, neither of them has any more right than the other to call itself God. Each presumably thinks it is good and thinks the other bad. One of them likes hatred and cruelty, the other likes love and mercy, and each backs its own view. Now what do we mean when we call one of them the Good Power and the other the Bad Power? Either we are merely saying that we happen to prefer the one to the other—like preferring beer to cider—or else we are saying that, whatever the two powers think about it, and whichever we humans, at the moment, happen to like, one of them is actually wrong, actually mistaken, in regarding itself as good.
Now [i]f “being good” meant simply joining the side you happened to fancy, for no real reason, then good would not deserve to be called good. So we must mean that one of the two powers is actually wrong and the other actually right.
But the moment you say that, you are putting into the universe a third thing in addition to the two Powers: some law or standard or rule of good which one of the powers conforms to and the other fails to conform to. But since the two powers are judged by this standard, then this standard, or the Being who made this standard, is farther back and higher up than either of them, and He will be the real God. In fact, what we meant by calling them good and bad turns out to be that one of them is in a right relation to the real ultimate God and the other in a wrong relation to Him.
[…]To be bad, [the Bad Power] must exist and have intelligence and will. But existence, intelligence and will are in themselves good. Therefore he must be getting them from the Good Power: even to be bad he must borrow or steal from his opponent. And do you now begin to see why Christianity has always said that the devil is a fallen angel? That is not a mere story for the children. It is a real recognition of the fact that evil is a parasite, not an original thing. The powers which enable evil to carry on are powers given it by goodness. All the things which enable a bad man to be effectively bad are in themselves good things—resolution, cleverness, good looks, existence itself. That is why Dualism, in a strict sense, will not work.
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book II – What Christians Believe, 2. The Invasion
C. S. Lewis, in his main objections against Dualism, says that it is incoherent. Good and Evil are existing principles under the presupposition that Good is desirable and Evil isn’t. But Evil is thus the absence of desirability, of Good, it is a privation. If we don’t admit this, then by the fact that both exist we make them the two complimentary parts of a whole (Being itself), and that whole is God, and thus we end up with Monism/Pantheism.
Another doctrine, often encountered in both of these views, is that being a particular person with selfhood and free will is a bad thing because God is impersonal. In this view, the monist says that getting close to divine wisdom is losing one’s personhood and dissolving into the whole; the dualist says (in most cases) that the Good demiurge created the spiritual, impersonal and immaterial, and that the Evil demiurge created the material and the personal, that we are imprisoned in the material and the personal, and that Salvation consists in having an immaterial existence dissolved in the impersonal essence of God. The monist view renders one’s life, acts and words an absolute futility; the dualist view encourages us to ether hate the material world (in which we have to work for our Salvation) or become indifferent to it (thus waiting for death to start living good lives), and to view our particular souls as defective as long as they are not dissolved in impersonality.
Having radically different views of God and His Creation makes us seek God differently. If one is to have a philosophy that will neither render itself or man ultimately insignificant, nor make the Good ultimately as divine as Evil, then one has to give up both Monism and Dualism.